During the liberation of Kuwait in February 1991, US Marines of the 1st Marine Division reported several suspected chemical warfare agent incidents, some of which occurred during combat operations near Kuwait’s Al Jaber air base, approximately 50 kilometers southwest of Kuwait City. From the evening of February 24 through the morning of February 26, 1991, seven chemical warfare agent alerts resulted in units near Al Jaber donning protective equipment while testing for the presence of chemical warfare agents.

On the night of February 24 and morning of February 25, Marines five times misidentified artillery smoke from Marine guns as possible Iraqi chemical warfare agents. This misidentified artillery smoke was the only indicator of a possible chemical warfare attack. Our investigation found no evidence of chemical warfare agent exposure in any of these alerts. Tests using M256A1 chemical agent detector kits identified no chemical warfare agent presence. No one reported any symptoms indicative of chemical warfare agents, despite some Marines and Iraqi prisoners not taking full protective measures during some of these alerts. We consider chemical warfare agent presence in these five alerts unlikely.

The specific source of a sixth alert reported at 6:00 PM on February 25 eluded our identification. Although contemporaneous written record places this alert with Marine units near Al Jaber, none of this unit’s Marines who should have remembered this incident could recall any specifics. Additional examination of this incident in a separate investigation produced no additional specifics but ascertained the M256A1 chemical agent detector kits did not identify agent presence. For this reason, we assess the presence of chemical warfare agent in this incident as unlikely.

The most-discussed alert—it originally prompted this investigation—occurred during the night of February 25, 1991, and was reported by Task Force Ripper’s XM93 Fox Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle commander. US armed forces initially deployed this German-made reconnaissance vehicle, the most sophisticated liquid chemical warfare agent detector available to US forces in Operation Desert Storm. As the reconnaissance vehicle sat under skies black with the smoke from oil well fires, its chemical warfare agent detector alerted to the possible vapor presence of a blister agent (a persistent chemical warfare agent). The alert ceased after several minutes. It is unclear if the crew had sufficient time to perform additional testing. All units in this vehicle’s vicinity complied with prescribed procedures by donning protective equipment and testing for chemical warfare agents.

Although the initial chemical warfare agent alert indicated the possible presence of chemical warfare agent, we found no evidence corroborating this alert. The M256A1 chemical agent detector kits, which are more sensitive to chemical warfare vapor than the reconnaissance vehicle, did not identify the presence of chemical warfare agents. The Fox vehicle found no contamination. This investigation could not find any source for chemical warfare agent at this location. Post-war US and United Nations investigators found no evidence of chemical munitions storage or use in Kuwait. In addition, we found that no servicemembers in the area who reported symptoms at that time indicating chemical warfare presence. Therefore, we assess the chemical warfare agent presence in this incident as unlikely.

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